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Mills, Magnus 1954-

Mills, Magnus 1954-

PERSONAL:

Born 1954; married; wife's name Sue.

ADDRESSES:

Home—London, England.

CAREER:

Writer. Worked variously as a bus driver and fence builder; resumed career as bus driver, c. 2006.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Finalist, Whitbread Prize and Booker Prize, 1998, both for The Restraint of Beasts; Booker Prize, 2001, for Three to See the King.

WRITINGS:

FICTION

The Restraint of Beasts, Arcade (New York, NY), 1998.

All Quiet on the Orient Express, Arcade (New York, NY), 1999.

Three to See the King, Picador (New York, NY), 2001.

The Scheme for Full Employment, Picador (New York, NY), 2002.

Only When the Sun Shines Brightly, Acorn (London, England), 2004.

Explorers of the New Century, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS:

Magnus Mills is a writer and former bus driver who received nominations for both the Whitbread and Booker prizes for his first novel, The Restraint of Beasts, which chronicles the exploits of two hapless fence installers. The unnamed English narrator of the novel works as foreman at a company that provides high-tension fences designed to deter both animals and human intruders. Among the narrator's underlings are Tam Finlayson and Richie Campbell, two Scots who enter into misadventure while reworking a poor installation at a site in Scotland. While at the job, Tam and Richie inadvertently kill their job supervisor with a tension wire. They bury the corpse, then depart to England for another job. Once they resume working, though, they accidentally kill another job supervisor, and at a third site they cause still another accidental death. A Publishers Weekly contributor described The Restraint of Beasts as a "mordant satire of tensions among the rural British working classes." The same Publishers Weekly contributor noted that "the clash between power-hungry bureaucrats and alcoholic, downtrodden laborers finds haunting comic expression in this promising debut." Elizabeth Gleick described The Restraint of Beasts, in her Time appraisal, as a "hilariously macabre tale." and Booklist contributor Danise Hoover hailed it as a "startlingly funny novel."

Mills followed The Restraint of Beasts with All Quiet on the Orient Express, a novel about a young man who finds himself drawn to rural life after extending a camping venture in England's Lake District. The unnamed protagonist, who narrates the novel, has traveled to the Lake District in preparation for an eventual trek in India. Once in the Lake District, however, he befriends the local citizenry, including a campground manager who retains the narrator for various jobs. The hero also becomes a player in a local pub's dart league, and he begins assisting the boss's daughter in her attempts to complete her homework assignments. Library Journal contributor Francisca Goldsmith, who affirmed that the protagonist "finds himself transformed by the pressures of fitting into this tiny social cosmos," noted the novel's "absurd juxtaposition of utterly believable comedies and tragedies." Similarly, James Polk wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Mills's second novel, in comparison to the earlier Restraint of Beasts, serves as "a parable of entrapment in which devious occurrences force the unnamed narrator out of his dreamy passivity and into a bleak succession of odd jobs."

Upon publication in 1999, All Quiet on the Orient Express received recognition as an accomplished comic tale. A Publishers Weekly contributor observed that the novel "maintains [Mills's] reputation as a wry humorist," and added that it constitutes "a Kafkaesque comedy of manual labor." Writing in Booklist, Danise Hoover deemed All Quiet on the Orient Express "an interesting second outing." A Kirkus Reviews critic called Mills's book "an original and haunting creation: a vision of Judgment whose very opacity gives it impressive symmetry, comedy, and power." More praise came from Gary Marshall, who wrote on the Spike Web site that All Quiet on the Orient Express "is blackly funny" and added that it "demonstrates Mills's ability to combine observation and surrealism to uncomfortably comic effect." Marshall concluded his review by proclaiming Mills "an extraordinary new talent."

Mills's third novel, Three to See the King, also has an unnamed narrator. The narrator lives in a hut in the desert that he found empty years earlier. He is surprised one day when a woman appears out of the blue and moves in. She is attracted to him and they find themselves in bed for four wonderful days. After the initial sexual attraction wears off, however, she begins to take over the house. The situation is further complicated by the appearance of Michael Hawkins, a charismatic leader who is building a city in a nearby canyon, to which hordes of followers are flocking. Frank Egerton, in Spectator, wrote: "Mills not only makes this novel emotionally effective but also develops his idiosyncratic vision with wry intelligence and wit."

In his next novel, The Scheme for Full Employment, the author tells the surreal tale of a government-subsidized industry in which men drive UniVans with spare parts from place to place for other identical UniVans. Most believe their jobs will last forever as long as the vans stay on the road, until problems arise among the workers, specifically the "flat-dayers," strict adherents of the eight-hour work day, and the "swervers," who would like to quit early once in a while. "Mills is proving himself to be a major and prolific writer of social satire whose work is both ridiculous and disturbing," wrote Jim Coan in a review of The Scheme for Full Employment in the Library Journal. Referring to Mills's satirical look at government, employment, and the working class, Publishers Weekly contributor Jeff Zalesky wrote that the author "is one of the best writers in the genre."

Explorers of the New Century is an adventure story featuring Mills's usual satirical twist as he retells the race between Scott and Amundsen to reach the South Pole. In Mills's version, an expedition led by Commander Johns sets out for the "Agreed Furtherst Point from Civilisation" and is in direct competition with another set of explorers led by Tostig as they also try to reach the same spot by a different route. The novel follows the competition between the two expeditions as well as internal rivalries among the crew as the expeditions' two ships land close to shore at about the same time. Writing in the London Independent, Nicholas Royle noted that the author is leading to a surprising twist in his story, which Royle called "enormous fun and deceptively profound." Other critics also praised the novel. Patrick Sullivan, writing in the Library Journal, referred to it as "a masterfully realized comic novel." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Mills "a provocative, elusive original."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 1, 1998, Danise Hoover, review of The Restraint of Beasts, p. 67; July, 1999, Danise Hoover, review of All Quiet on the Orient Express.

Independent (London, England), September 16, 2005, Nicholas Royle, review of Explorers of the New Century.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1999, review of All Quiet on the Orient Express, pp. 991-992; October 15, 2002, review of The Scheme for Full Employment, p. 1499; December 15, 2005, review of Explorers of the New Century, p. 1294.

Library Journal, August, 1999, Francisca Goldsmith, review of All Quiet on the Orient Express; June 1, 2001, Barbara Hoffert, review of All Quiet on the Orient Express, p. S56; November 15, 2002, Jim Coan, review of The Scheme for Full Employment, p. 102; January 1, 2006, Patrick Sullivan, review of Explorers of the New Century, pp. 100-101.

New Statesman, November 1, 1999, Martyn Bedford, review of All Quiet on the Orient Express, p. 57.

New York Times Book Review, September 12, 1999, James Polk, "Odd Jobs," p. 13; December 29, 2002, Alix Wilber, review of The Scheme for Full Employment, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, July 27, 1998, review of The Restraint of Beasts, p. 52; July 19, 1999, review of All Quiet on the Orient Express, p. 182; October 21, 2002, Jeff Zalesky, review of The Scheme for Full Employment, p. 54; November 28, 2005, review of Explorers of the New Century, p. 22.

Spectator, June 23, 2001, Frank Egerton, review of Three to See the King, p. 38.

Time, December 28, 1998, Elizabeth Gleick, review of The Restraint of Beasts, p. 186; October 18, 1999, Nadya Labi, review of All Quiet on the Orient Express, p. 118.

Times Literary Supplement, October 1, 1999, Sam Gilpin, review of All Quiet on the Orient Express, p. 23; May 25, 2001, Carol Birch, review of Three to See the King, p. 23.

World and I, January, 2000, Robert Geary, "An Unlikely Story," p. 279.

ONLINE

Agony Column,http://trashotron.com/agony/ (December 18, 2002), Rick Kleffel, review of The Scheme for Full Employment.

Grumpy Old Bookman Blog,http://grumpyoldbookman.blogspot.com/ (March 13, 2006), "Magnus Mills Back on Route."

Spike,http://www.spikemagazine.com/ (April 28, 2000), Gary Marshall, review of All Quiet on the Orient Express.

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